Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44,
Today, we celebrate our Stewardship Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent – and we mark the beginning of a new year in our church calendar. There are several ways you’ll notice our liturgical change. The hangings are now purple. The hymns are different. And, we move to a new Gospel this week. After hearing mostly from Luke since last Advent, we now enter Lectionary Year A, where we’ll hear primarily from Matthew.
We’ll have a better understand of the themes, the hymns, and the readings during this Advent season, if we start this morning with a bit of an Advent introduction. The word Advent means coming and we mark the season of Advent on the four Sundays before Christmas, as we await the coming of the Christ Child. Our work during the season of Advent, is to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ. We do this preparation as we anticipate his coming into the world.
Many theologians describe our current time as the time “between the ages.” Our present age is marked by sin, idolatry, exploitation, injustice, conflict between humans and nature, violence, and death. The coming age, also known as the Kingdom of God, will be marked by authentic worship, forgiveness, mutual support, heath, peace between humans and nature, and eternal life.
This morning, we hear Jesus calling on his followers to be awake and engaged. Biblical scholar Warren Carter says that the issue is not that we might miss the return of Jesus. That will be evident to all. “Rather, the point concerns not being distracted or diverted from God’s purposes, but living faithfully for this goal.”
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live faithfully for the goals of the coming age, the kingdom of God. We are called to stand against what is broken about our present age. Things like injustice, oppression, and environmental degradation. And, we are to lived lives marked by authentic worship, mutual support, forgiveness, health, and eternal life.
Another way of saying this is that we are to be awake to the problems of this current age, and engaged in solutions that help to bring about the coming Kingdom of God.
What does that mean in practical terms? Let me give you some real life examples.
My friend Rocky is a personal trainer. She does her work primarily in senior living communities. She also spends time working with people who are ill, helping them to get more physically fit, in order to live longer and healthier lives. Rocky is an active member of her church. She plays her flute in church each week and sings in the choir. One of Rocky’s close friends at church is a lady named June. For over a year, Rocky has been visiting June several times per week, and bringing a puzzle for them to do. I know that Rocky’s presence has helped June to feel less lonely, especially since she moved to a nursing home.
I have another friend named Arthur – he’s an immigrant to this country from Nigeria, and he’s a pharmacist. After years of working for a corporate pharmacy, Arthur decided to open his own shop. He lives in a pretty affluent community and could certainly have opened his shop there. Instead, he opened his shop an hour from home in a community I would describe as a healthcare desert. Arthur saw that people in parts of Vallejo lacked access to healthcare and medication and chose to place his shop in that community.
My final example comes from our eight-year-old granddaughter Lily. For as long as I’ve known Lily, she’s had a heart for animals. These days, she’s most concerned about the plight of the dolphins. Earlier this year, she baked cupcakes and raised $100 to send to an organization that protects dolphins. And she’s let us know that for Christmas, she wants a membership in this same organization. Our other grandkids asked for Legos!
There’s a word that young adults and others who concerned about issues of racism and social justice, are using these days, and that word is woke. It’s a play on the past tense of wake. These seekers after justice are challenging one another to stay woke or to be aware. I would describe Rocky and Arthur and Lily as woke. They are woke to needs in the world – and are engaged in responding to those needs.
The work of the first Advent has not yet been completed – and as we await the day of Christ’s return, we are called to stay woke and to be engaged with the world. We are called to live the values of the Kingdom of God, until Christ returns.
As I reflected on this reading in light of Stewardship Sunday, it seemed quite appropriate. St. Mary’s is the place where we each come to be inspired. We enter this place each week to worship God, to be moved by the Spirit, the hear the Good News proclaimed and to stay woke!
St. Mary’s enables us to be the people that God calls us to be. This church serves as a conduit for us to act to bring about the values of God’s new age to come. We give a portion of our time, talent and treasure to make that happen. In just a few moments, we will have our offering – and at that time, I will invite you to place your pledge card into the offering plate as a sign of your commitment to come together to do the work God has called us to do as we await Christ’s return.
We left town last Sunday after church, so I was not able to post last Sunday's sermon right away. Glad to have a chance to make it live ahead of this coming Sunday!
Scripture text: Luke 23:33-43
Today, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. We’ll begin by looking at the Feast itself - its origin and history. Then, we’ll move to Scripture, in order to answer the question “What sort of king is Jesus?” Finally, as always, we’ll explore what it means for us that Christ is King.
The Feast of Christ the King is one of the newest feasts in our Christian calendar. Pope Pius XI began writing at length about Jesus Christ as King in the aftermath of World War I. Pius deplored the rise of class divisions and unbridled nationalism. Looking at the chaos and destruction that followed that war, he became convinced that individuals must allow Jesus to reign over their whole lives - their minds, wills, hearts, and bodies. (Adapted from Ubi arcano Dei consilio, 1922 and Quas Primas, 1925) Pius XI officially named a Feast of Christ the King in 1925. It was moved to its current location in the liturgical calendar, and is now celebrated in many denominations around the world, including many Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Moravian churches. The Feast of Christ the King invites Christians to re-order our lives according the the teachings and values of Christ and his Kingdom.
Let’s turn to scripture to learn more about Christ the King. If Christ is truly king over all, then Christ must have a kingdom. What does this kingdom look like? In Luke’s Gospel alone, the image of the kingdom of God appears 43 different times! It’s most often linked to justice for the oppressed, help for the poor, and food for the hungry. When Jesus acts on behalf of the oppressed, the poor and the hungry, He says, “The Kingdom of God has come near.” In another place in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as belonging to little children. He also says that it’s like bread dough that is mixed with yeast so that it rises. The Kingdom of God is active and transformative.
This morning’s Gospel passage, designated for Christ the King Sunday in our Lectionary Year C, presents us with a shocking image of Christ as King. Today, we encounter Jesus on the cross. He has been stripped of all he has, tortured, humiliated, and he is being executed at the hands of the Roman government. We often think of rulers and leaders as having power and prestige. Many rulers and leaders behave with great entitlement. The crucifixion of Christ is the opposite of power, prestige, and entitlement. Instead, we see Christ the King yielding. We see him behaving with humility and lowliness. We see him suffering without complaint. These are the ways that Christ is King.
Finally, in his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul describes Christ as “King of King and Lord of Lords.” This is Paul’s way of saying that Christ rules, as King, over every person on earth. Even other kings. Even people with power and prestige. Even the Roman Emperor. Roman leaders crucified Jesus. At the time that Paul was writing, the Romans were continuing their persecution of Christians. Rome would eventually put Paul to death. No matter how difficult things are, Christ and his values are the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Now that we have a greater understanding of the purpose of this Feast Day, and we have some understanding of how Christ is King, what does that mean for us?
The examples of the Kingdom of God from Luke’s Gospel speak to our core values. We know that the Kingdom of God is among us when the oppressed receive justice. We know that the Kingdom of God is among us when the hungry are fed. These are the same values that spoke to Pope Pius in the aftermath of World War I. In response to the death and destruction brought about by that horrific World War, he called on Christians to align their lives with the values of the Kingdom of God. When we work in Christ’s name on behalf of those who are in need, we are honoring Christ as King and his Kingdom.
When we turn to this morning’s reading about the crucifixion, it could be easy to say that this story does not speak to us. We aren’t leaders and rulers. At this moment in time, none of us is facing capital punishment. But, speaking for myself, there are certainly times when I am in danger of taking advantage the power and prestige that I have been given. There are times when my sense of entitlement gets in the way, and prevents me from behaving according to the values of the Kingdom of God. When we live into the values of God’s Kingdom, our lives are characterized by the words that describe Jesus on the cross - yielding, humble, lowly.
Finally, turing back to Pope Pius, this Feast Day provides us with guidance about how we should order our lives. Pius wrote, “Not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire.” And Pius goes on to say that all of our lives - our minds, our will, our hearts, and our bodies - are to be wholly subject to Christ. Being subject to something or someone is difficult for Americans. In November of 2010, David and I were on our honeymoon in England. On Christ the King Sunday, we were with our friend Rod, who is an Anglican priest. He preached a great sermon. At lunch after church, Rod said to us, “You Yanks don’t do well with Christ the King - you aren’t used to having Kings.” We laughed - and realized that Rod was totally right. We don’t like being told what to do. There’s a strong strain of individualism among us. We take pride in being our own people. As Christians, we give up some of that privilege. A collect in our prayer book says it this way, “ By his grace we are able to triumph over every evil and to live no longer for ourselves alone, but for him who died for us and rose again.” That’s what it means for us to be subject to Christ the King.
Friends, we need Christ the King. We are invited to place ourselves - our hearts and minds and souls and bodies - under Christ the King. We are invited to allow Christ to shape our values. We are invited to ask Christ for the grace to be yielding and humble when those traits are needed. Our world needs the values of the Kingdom of God. And we are called to be the bearers of God’s Kingdom in this age.
Sermon, the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28C, Preached at Grace and St. Mary's
Text: Luke 21:5-19
In this morning’s Gospel passage, we hear a conversation that Jesus has in the Temple with some of his followers. One can imagine that these folks from the countryside have, perhaps, not been in the temple much, and they are awed by its size and opulence. In fact, the Temple, along with the Temple Mount, was one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Jesus uses that moment of awe to speak about the future and how he will support his followers by giving them words and wisdom when they face difficult circumstances. This morning, we’ll look at this passage’s history and context, before moving forward and asking what this passage has to say to us in this present day.
Here's the history part. Biblical scholars believe that Luke's Gospel was written sometime between the years 80 and 100 CE. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, in a siege led by Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian. The temple treasury was raided and all those glorious adornments were stolen, taken to Rome to fund the building of the Coliseum and a school for gladiators. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, 1.1 million non-combatants died in the siege of Jerusalem, many of them observant Jews from around the world who had come to observe the Passover. 97,000 were taken in slavery; their labor built the Coliseum.
This terrible event that Jesus "predicts" this morning - has already happened! Every person who heard Luke's Gospel the first time would have known about the event. My guess is that not one person who heard this passage was unaffected by the siege of Jerusalem. Chances are strong that someone they knew died, or was taken in slavery. Perhaps they'd worshiped in the temple. And, when Jesus uses language about arrests and persecutions, trials and betrayals, my guess is that those first hearers would have been aware of those things, as well. Again, it’s likely that they knew someone who had been arrested, persecuted, or betrayed.
Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with what happened. And how does Jesus tell them to respond to persecution? He says, "This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your testimony in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."
This word translated as testify can also mean to attest and to bear witness. Jesus promises those first hearers that when the time comes for them to speak, to attest, to bear witness, that He will give them the words and wisdom that they need.
Now, what do Jesus' words have to say to us this morning? As Jesus followers in this time and place, we are heirs to Jesus’ promise. We are to trust that he will give us words and wisdom in the difficult circumstances that we face.
It has been a difficult week in our country. I'm not comparing our political situation to the destruction of the Temple but, it has been difficult.
I know that here in our congregation and community, there are people who voted for Donald Trump and are pleased he has been elected President. And, I know there are also people who are appalled by the same outcome. And, I know people who didn't vote for either of the major party candidates because they thought both choices were terrible. I know, because I've talked with people here this week.
I also want to make a disclaimer before I say any more. I believe that people will be writing about this campaign and election for years to come. But based on my reading, my conversations, and my Christian conviction, I have some thoughts to share.
This week, many in our community and our country are celebrating. I’ve read stories about people from the working and middle classes, as well as small business owners, who have long felt abandoned by both political parties in this country. They’ve seen their wages and benefits stagnate, while CEO salaries have skyrocketed. Small business owners have struggled mightily under government restrictions that curtail their work. In Donald Trump, they see someone who understands them and their concerns, a political outsider, who will make changes that will help them. They are celebrating because Donald Trump gives them hope for a better future.
There are also people in this country who are very afraid. During his campaign, Donald Trump used racial and ethnic prejudice, disrespect for immigrants, women, and the disabled, as well as a fear of the other as part of his campaign tactics. If you have followed the news at all this week, you know that swastikas have been found in a school bathroom in neighboring Maryland. Some muslim women have stopped wearing the hijab, because they are afraid.
I want to tell you what happened to a friend on Wednesday. She's ethnically Sri Lankan and a US Citizen. She was born in this country to Sri Lankan immigrants, who are now also citizens. She's a person of color. As she walked down the sidewalk, a man called her an illegal immigrant and said that now she'd have to go back where she came from. I think she was born in Minnesota, but I'm pretty sure that's not what he meant. My friend wrote, “Here I am, bawling, wondering if everything may parents have worked for can be called into question in 24 hours. No one should be subjected to such cruelty. No one should have to feel the way that I feel right now.”
I’d like to pause here to offer a word to those who think that people who are afraid are over-reacting. Only time will tell. But, in the meantime, telling a person who is afraid that they are over-reacting isn’t the most helpful thing that we can do. When a person is afraid, the most helpful thing that we can do is to ask ourselves, “How can I bring the words and and wisdom of Christ to this person who is afraid?”
If you are a Trump supporter, I invite you to actively seek out the stories of those who are afraid. Listen to them and to their stories. Don’t try to explain their fears away. Be a witness.
If you are a Clinton supporter I invite you to do the same – actively seek stories of those whose lives have been impacted by the policies of several generations of politicians on both sides of the aisle. When a person has been marginalized, the most helpful thing that we can do is to ask ourselves, “How can I bring the words and wisdom of Christ to this person who has been marginalized?”
And, of course, if you didn’t vote for either candidate, you are called to listen to people on both sides of this issue. The question remains, “How can I bring the words and wisdom of Christ to this person?”
Here’s what’s crystal clear to me at this moment. We ALL have work to do. Each of us, citizens of this country and followers of Jesus, must not allow this division to stand. As Christians, we have higher allegiance than that of United States citizen. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. What does the Kingdom of God look like? Jesus described it, quoting from the Prophet Isaiah, when he began his ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. Freedom for those oppressed. These are our Christian values, whatever our political views. These are the words and wisdom of Christ.
Our allegiance to Jesus Christ and our primary citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven requires our witness. Our testimony. We are called to stand with those who are poor. We are called to stand with those whose lives have been impacted by the disinterest of those from both political parties. And, we are called to stand with those who are afraid.
We are called to help. To act. To offer compassion. To bear witness and attest and testify to the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us not to plan our testimony in advance and to trust that he will give us the words and the wisdom. Our tools are open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and a willingness to listen and to act.
Last week, as we marked All Saints Day, we renewed our Baptismal vows. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
This day, and every day, I pray that Christ will give each of us the courage to live out these vows. I trust the promise that he made to those first hearers all those years ago. I believe that he gave them and will give us the words and the wisdom to offer testimony and to bear witness to all people about the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God, where the poor have good news brought to them and the oppressed are set free.
I'm Fran Gardner-Smith. I'm an Episcopal priest, a wife, a grandmother, a feminist, a writer, and an artist.